MS Wings: learning to fly with multiple sclerosis

After five years of swimming with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) I felt ready to take on my ultimate swimming goal: swimming 200 metre butterfly – 8 lengths of the pool. This is the race of races in the competitive swimming world, requiring a tremendous amount of strength and endurance. There are only a handful of women in Canada in my age class who swim the 200 fly.

Knowing what I had to do to succeed, I increased my training. I swam with Victoria’s YMCA Masters 2 times a week and Victoria Masters Swim Club 3-4 times a week. For additional cradio, I spun for an hour at a time 3 times a week, to improve my strength I lifted weights twice a week, and to help build my core I outrigger paddled twice a week. I maintained this from September to January.

The swimmers at the YMCA train for fitness more than competition. My coach, Johnny, was very good about helping me adapt the workouts for butterfly training. He would often have me swim fly while my lane mates were swimming freestyle. If he knew I had an event coming up, he would modify the workout to help me prepare.

My coaches at Victoria Masters, Danielle, Avila and Keith, helped me train specifically for fly endurance. It was a building process. At the beginning of the season I would swim 25 meter sets. Over time I was able to manage 50s – eventually several in a row with limited rest time in between.

After 5 months of hard training I was ready to put my wings to the test. The Victoria Masters hosted an internal swim meet where members were encouraged to challenge themselves – my challenge – the 200 metre butterfly!

With my coaches and team mates there encouraging and supporting me, when the start gun went sounded I dove into the pool and slowly began to fly. I was hoping to swim the event in under 3:15. I was careful to pace myself, making sure I took a good deep breath at each turn. Fly catches up on you after about 125 meters. For the last 75 you often feel as though you have 25 pound weights on each of your arms. Three minutes and 5 seconds after diving in I had completed the race. I now knew I could swim the event and was ready to put an official time on the board at a sectioned swim meet.

I entered the Love to Swim swim meet, hosted by English Bay Swim Club, a team I had previously swam for. In my typical “put your MS to the test” fashion I entered the 50, 100 and 200 butterfly as well as the 400 IM (4 lengths of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle). I managed to swim the 200 fly in 3:01 and later the 400 IM in 6:33 – decent times for a gal over 40 with MS.

Two months later at the Canadian Masters Championships in Montreal, this time with my parents and sisters by my side, I swam, among other events, the 200 fly and 400IM. I was determined to swim the 200 fly in under 3 minutes and my 400IM in under 6:25. I managed times of 2:58 and 6:22.

What I have learned and continue to learn about myself, my body, and my MS, is that achieving my goals is possible. The key for me seems to be a well thought out plan that gradually takes me to where I want to go.

If you are someone using swimming or another sport to manage your disease I encourage you to contact me so we can share your story with others.


> Read MS Motivation: swimming across the Strait of Georgia


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